Bill O'Brien and offensive guard John Urschel talked with the media on Thursday during the Big Ten's Spring Football Teleconference. Both had a lot of good things to say, especially about the offensive line and the quarterback situation. Here are some of the highlights:
On the offensive line play so far this spring:
O'Brien: Last year when I came in, I had heard that the offensive line wasn't the greatest in the world. And I can tell you from day one last year, I felt like those kids gelled well and played hard and were tough guys and played well for us. This year I know these guys a lot better.
Urschel: I could talk about Ty all day. If you asked me, he’s one of the most underrated players on the team.....Honestly, when I got here, I thought Ty was the best offensive lineman in our year of the seven of us. He’s a strong, tough football player with good fundamentals and plays on his feet. This is a guy who isn’t exactly blessed with great intangibles, maybe, like Donovan. He’s not a really tall guy, but he gets the job done. He’s a consistent player. You don’t see him missing a lot of days with injuries. He’s a tough, hard-working football player. I’m blessed to have him next to me.
Aside from him, I’d say Miles Dieffenbach has really stepped his game up. He started a lot of games for us last year, he’s a good football player, but he’s really tried to take his game to the next level.
For the five guys that who are running with the ones right now, it’s Miles, Ty, and myself, for the interior linemen. For tackles, we have (Adam) Gress playing at right tackle and Donovan (Smith) at left tackle, with (Eric) Shrive taking some reps as well. Also (Angelo) Mangiro is taking some reps with the ones a little bit, rotating with the three of us.
O'Brien: Our quarterbacks, these are smart guys. It's not like they've made a ton of mental errors. I think that these guys have had productive practices. Has every play been great? No. But, you could say that for every position. The word patience is a very important word here, especially as it relates to me. Coming from pro football, I definitely have to learn more patience with all these young players.
These guys have had an equal amount of reps. I think they've both had their good moments and their bad moments. I definitely think there's enough time. Any time you have practices left there's always enough time for one guy to separate himself. We'll see what happens over the next few practices here. I don't really like to get into all the compare and contrast. I think they both do some things well and there's some things that both of them need to improve upon.
Urschel: Honestly, if you guys want to talk quarterbacks, you’re probably talking to the wrong person in the wrong position group. I spend a majority of my time blocking for these guys, so I don’t really get to see their decision-making process in terms of passing.
What I get a feel for is how these guys do controlling the huddle, how they do at the line of scrimmage, getting us out of bad plays and into good ones. Honestly, both of these quarterbacks have done a great job of that. (Steven) Bench has been under the system for a whole year and he’s very, very solid and has a great understanding of it. (Tyler) Ferguson, he just got here but, man, he’s picked it up quick. Both of these guys are doing a great job of understanding the entire offense and really taking a leadership role at that position.
On the linebacking core:
O'Brien: That's something that I think about 24/7. I think our three linebackers that are in starting spots right now (Glenn Carson, Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman), I believe that they are very, very good players. They're tough guys, they're smart guys, and they're instinctive players. I do think that there's some guys behind them that can help us that have improved. Gary Wooten has definitely improved over the spring. Ben Kline has been out with a shoulder deal but he's been in non-contact type drills and he'll be back in training camp. We got a freshman coming in, in Brandon Bell that we think can help us, but there's not a lot of guys there. We certainly have to do a good job the rest of the spring and obviously over summer and into training camp of making sure that Carson, Hull and Wartman are as healthy as they possibly can be going into the opener.
We're not going to consider moving anybody [to linebacker]. For that position, there's really nobody to move. We're just going to do a great job of monitoring it and getting those guys good reps, but then making sure we get them out of there and get some of our younger guys reps. That's what we have to do.
Other notes from BOB and the math whiz:
- O'Brien has been trying to keep players healthy by limiting tackling during the spring practices. There will be full contact during the spring game, though.
- If the first snap would be today, Zach Zwinak would be the first to line up as running back. Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch have definitely improved as well. Belton, in particular, has lost weight from last season and is speedier than ever.
- Individual players who were singled out for praise were tight end Brent Wilkerson (by O'Brien) and defensive lineman Kyle Baublitz (by Urschel).
- When asked if he would rather be learning/teaching math or playing football, Urschel said that he honestly would rather be out on the field while he's young and can go out and practice and have fun.
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